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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1990

Mr HOWARD (Leader of the Opposition)(3.12) —Just after Question Time yesterday the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) called a Press conference and ended one of the more farcical periods of Australia's recent political history. After two or three weeks of public agonising and speculation about the possibility of an early election being held, the Prime Minister, parading his most self-righteous and unctuous manner, said that after a lot of agonising he had decided to do the right thing by the country and not have an early election. I have to say on behalf of the Opposition that if ever anybody thought the Prime Minister could be taken seriously he would have been totally disabused by his behaviour over this matter.

The Prime Minister's decision yesterday had nothing at all to do with the interests of our country. It had nothing at all to do with the implementation of the economic policies that are needed to bring about recovery in Australia. It had everything to do with the survival of the political skin of Bob Hawke. It had absolutely nothing whatever to do with the economic, political and social future of Australia.

If honourable members want an example of the supreme hypocrisy and double standards of the so-called great man, the Prime Minister of Australia, the person who publicly agonised for two or three weeks on the steps of Parliament House each morning, saying `I really want to go the full term but it might be in the interests of the country if I don't', let us have a look at a couple of his quotations. Let us remember the background. This was the Prime Minister who promised not to go early in 1984 but went early. This was the Prime Minister who swore on a stack of Bibles, week after week, that he would not go early this year and then started publicly agonising over it. Let me remind the House of what the Prime Minister said on the Sunday program only on 22 March this year. It is an absolute gem, an absolute pearler, of the Prime Minister's hypocrisy. This is what he had to say:

One of the problems that has arisen is that the Opposition not only destabilise themselves but they have prostituted-

listen to this hypocrisy-

the political and economic debate by putting up economic nostrums and stupidities that really are destabilising. That sort of instability they have created is doing nothing for business confidence in this community and that is a concern.

In other words, the Prime Minister was saying that our behaviour was causing concern in the business community. He said that on 22 March 1987. But what did he have to say yesterday, appropriately on April Fools' Day? He used his serious voice on this occasion. He was trying to look very much the laid back great man yesterday. This is what he had to say as he announced that there would be no early election:

We are living in very volatile times and damage can be done to the exchange rate-

he ought to know about that-

therefore to interest rates-

he ought to know about that-

quite quickly. If you had a situation where the country were in an election mode for something like two months, broadly speaking, quite an amount of damage could be done in those terms. I don't think it was right to run this risk.

Living Standards

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In other words, the man who on 22 March was saying `I might have to have an election because of the damage the Opposition is doing to business confidence' on 1 April was capable, with a straight face, of saying to the Australian public: `I am not going to have an early election because of the damage it might do to the economy and to the business community'. No wonder that man blushes not when promise after promise is broken by his Government. No wonder that man is regarded as having dishonoured all of the major promises he put to the Australian public in 1983 and 1984.

The Prime Minister did not go to the election yesterday because he knew that he would be defeated because of the high interest rates, the high taxation, the collapse in family living standards, the destruction of rural Australia and the fact that his Government is run by the trade union movement. I tell the Prime Minister that those issues will be around in September; they will be around in November; they will be around in January; and they will be around in March of next year if he has to be dragged screaming on the last possible day to face the jury of the Australian public. So the Prime Minister need not imagine that by the charade that he went through over the last couple of weeks he can escape the judgment of the Australian people on those issues. Those issues will politically hang the Prime Minister as surely in six, nine or 12 months time as they would have hung him on 9 May if he had had the courage to go to an election on that date.

The reason more than anything else why those issues would have hung the Prime Minister is that the Prime Minister is no longer believed as a politician in this country. He has a precious concern for his integrity. So precious it is that he literally bristles whenever there is any suggestion at Question Time that he might not be telling the truth. But when one combs through the record and examines the political scorecard of this Government and what has happened over the past four years-we have now had just over four years of the present Prime Minister's stewardship-one finds no fewer than 32 major promises made by the Prime Minister that have been broken.

Mr N.A. Brown —How many?

Mr HOWARD —Thirty-two. Instead of taking the time of the House to go through all of them, I have done better than that. I have compiled the top 10 Hawke disposable promises. They make absolutely fascinating reading. For example, let us go to something that strikes at the heart of every Australian family-home ownership. What did the Prime Minister have to say on that? He said:

We pledge ourselves to bring home ownership once again within the reach of ordinary Australian families.

He said that on 13 November 1984. What has happened to that promise? It has gone out the window. Home loan interest rates have risen from 11 1/2 per cent in December 1984 to 15 1/2 per cent. A record number of people are on public housing waiting lists. Is it not incredible that this Government, which is supposed to look after the battler, has more people waiting for public housing-almost double the number-than were waiting for public housing in the last year of the Fraser Government? That is the record of this Government's compassion and concern. That is why the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand), the self-styled leader of the Australian Labor Party left wing, says that poverty and suffering by low income earners have increased under the Labor Government. That happens to be true, and no more has it increased than in the area of public housing.

Disposable promise No. 2 concerned interest rates, a subject the Prime Minister is a real expert on when it comes to breaking promises. Do honourable members remember his memorable promise on 20 November 1984? He will hear a lot more of this between now and whenever he is dragged screaming to the polls. He said:

At present, the outlook for interest rates is as bright as it has been for more than a decade.

Australia and Australians will during 1985 reap the interest rate rewards that are flowing from successful policies of the past 20 months.

We've ploughed the fields and sown the seeds. In the near future we will harvest the crop.

We all know that the Prime Minister's performance on that has been an abysmal failure and retreat. Let us move on to promise No. 3. In 1984 the Prime Minister said:

We expect inflation will be less than five per cent in the year ahead and we are determined to keep it below five per cent.

He was wrong again. He did not even have an error factor of 10 per cent, 20 per cent or 50 per cent; he had an error factor of 100 per cent on that promise because since he made it, inflation has doubled. We now have the scandalous situation that, while countries such as America, Britain and Japan have inflation rates at 2 per cent or less, the Prime Minister and his Treasurer (Mr Keating) have given us an inflation rate of about 10 per cent-double that which existed four years ago-which is the worst, relative to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average, for more than 25 years. The list continues. On petrol prices, on 5 March 1985, the Prime Minister said:

Any fall in Saudi prices must be passed on to Australian motorists in lower petrol prices.

One can ask any farmer or motorist around Australia what has happened to that disposable promise. The fifth promise concerned youth traineeships. The Prime Minister said:

In the coming year, 10,000 traineeships will be made available . . . Our aim of 75,000 young people in traineeships will be achieved in the bicentennial year.

He has only seven months to go before he has to achieve that. He is a long way behind. By September last year, a year after the promise, only 2,025 young people had found work, and of those only 58 per cent were to be found in the private sector.

I move on to promise No. 7. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech of 16 February 1983, promised to maintain the value of the dependent spouse rebate. That promise was also broken. The rebate has declined by 16 per cent in real terms under his prime ministership. The value of the family allowance has declined by 20 per cent in real terms under his prime ministership. That was another shattered promise of the Prime Minister. I turn to another very explicit promise. The explicit promises of the Prime Minister-the ones where he points his finger and says `I want you really to understand this; I want even you to understand'-are the best and they are the most embarrassing when they are broken. I ask honourable members to listen to this one:

And I now give this undertaking-that for the term of our next government, the Medicare levy will not be increased.

That promise was made on 13 November 1984. In the 1986-87 Budget-the second Budget of his new government-the Medicare levy was increased. Then we had that marvellous economic centrepiece, the trilogy, on which he went to the 1984 election campaign. He said this about the trilogy:

In our next three year term of Government the overall level of taxation will not increase as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product.

That promise has been broken twice already by the Government. The Treasurer says that the trilogy is now of no account.

Mr Hunt —The trilogy is dead.

Mr HOWARD —It is dead; it is irrelevant. He says that we should forget about it; it is of no account. Yet it was the centrepiece of the election campaign for the Government in 1984. I know that my colleagues the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Peter Fisher), the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Drummond) and the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) remember the way in which the wine growers of this country were deceived in 1983 by the promise:

Labor has pledged not to impose a sales tax or an excise on wine.

That promise has been broken to the factor of 2,000 per cent, because the Government has imposed a 20 per cent tax on wine. Now we come to the bobby-dazzler of them all, the most memorable promise. It will never be forgotten; the Prime Minister will never be allowed to forget it:

And here let me make one point so that even our opponents can understand it; and let me make it beyond all their powers of misrepresentations and distortion. There will be no new capital gains tax.

That promise was made by the Prime Minister on 16 February 1983. On 19 September, without a blush, the Prime Minister's Treasurer introduced a capital gains tax. I have mentioned the top 10 of the broken promises. The Minister for Trade (Mr Dawkins), who is at the table, is very good at dishing out documents; so he can have a copy of the top 10 of the broken promises. I see that the Minister does not want a copy. He is getting petulant. That is what is done with tax returns, too; they are thrown in the waste paper basket.

Even in terms of the Government's ideological bind, we have had broken promises. Today, we had the spectacle of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer being caught out on tearing up the anti-privatisation policy of the Australian Labor Party. Government members sat in stunned-mullet silence when the Treasurer admitted that, if we have to sell assets to reduce our overseas debt, we will do so. That was the bottom line of what the Treasurer said. He is in favour of privatisation. All of that nonsense about it being economic vandalism goes out the window. This Government did not have the guts or the courage to have an early election. It did not have the courage to have an early election because it knew that its broken promises on interest rates, taxation, family living standards, health care and in so many other areas--

Mr Hunt —And Rod Cameron told him so.

Mr HOWARD —Rod Cameron told him so, and it would have been to his great and complete electoral doom. All I can say, on behalf of the Opposition, is that although 9 May may have gone away as an election date, those issues that will be the political death of this Government have not gone away. They will be just as good for us in September; they will be just as good in November; they will be just as good in January; and they will be best of all in March next year.